A while back I did a series of posts (here, here, and here) essentially saying knowledge of Chinese culture is secondary to knowledge of business. In drawing this conclusion, I was thinking much more in terms of negotiating a deal than in marketing a consumer product.
In marketing a consumer product, knowing the culture can and usually is of crucial importance and it seems some Western companies are forgetting this in marketing their products in China. KFC is the latest to fall victim to a cultural faux pas in its marketing. This article in the Independent (London), entitled, “KFC faces backlash in China over chickenburger advert,”[link no longer exists] discusses how KFC offended many in China by using a Taoist monk in this television commercial to proclaim that a KFC chickenburger to be a “masterpiece.” Problem is that many Chinese are offended by the use of this commercialized “monk,” both because he resembles a monk and becuase he resembles Fu Qingzhu, who helped defend China against invaders in the early 17th century. Another problem is that most Taoists are vegetarians.
The article goes on to quote Zhao Shu, vice-chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society, as saying that “whenever companies enter foreign markets, they must never forget one principle: ‘to respect the target customer’s cultural traditions.'” This does make for good business.
The Useless Tree blog, which is subtitled, Ancient Chinese thought in Modern American life, did an excellent post on this issue, stating that the whole thing is being blown out of proportion as we are “too far down the reform-and-opening road to return to some notion that culture is off limits to advertising.” I agree that culture is not off limits to advertising, yet at the same time, since advertising is meant to bring in customers, not repel them, good advertising is cognizant of cultural sensibilities. Good business demands this. China culture matters.